Steven Holl Architects’ light-filled Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to open on June 9

The addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City, MO) opening in June, runs along the eastern edge of the museum campus and provides a counterpoint to the original 1933 Beaux-Arts building. Five lenses of glass walls emerge from the ground and create a luminous, undulating interplay between architecture, landscape and art.

The new Bloch Building is the centerpiece of a dramatic transformation of the entire institution that includes major renovations to the original building, a restoration of the Sculpture Park and a complete reinstallation of the permanent galleries, drawing from the more than 33,500 works in its encyclopedic collection. The new 165,000-square-foot expansion increases museum space by more than 70 percent and features a cascading level of expansive, light-filled galleries.

Marc F. Wilson, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/ CEO of the museum states: “The completion of this amazing transformation is an aesthetic and programmatic achievement, both for the Nelson-Atkins and for the entire community of Kansas City. Steven Holl and his team arrived at a brilliant solution that completely fulfilled the requirements of the Museum’s strategic plan and its architectural program while responding creatively to the injunctions of the community.”

Selected through an international juried competition, Steven Holl Architects was awarded the commission for the new building in 1999. The design was chosen for its imaginative and unexpected solution to the institution’s needs, balancing innovation with respect for the beloved Nelson-Atkins building. Steven Holl stated: “The idea of complementary contrast, the Stone and the Feather, drove our design for the addition to the classical stone temple and surrounding landscape. The addition is not an object: we envisioned a new paradigm fusing landscape and architecture. In contrast to the stone building, the new lightweight architecture of glass lenses is scattered about the landscape framing sculpture gardens.”

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger recently wrote,” The building is not just Holl’s finest by far, but also one of the best museums of the last generation” (New Yorker, April 30 2007).

The five lenses emerge from the ground and create a dynamic interaction between architecture and landscape, inside and outside, translucence and opacity, tranquility and energy. The lenses’ multiple layers of translucent glass gather, diffuse and refract light, at times materializing light like blocks of ice. During the day the lenses inject varying qualities of light into the galleries, while at night the sculpture garden glows with their internal light. The sculpture garden continues up and over the gallery roofs, and provides sustainable green roofs to achieve high insulation and control storm water. The “meandering path” threaded between the lenses in the Sculpture Park has its sinuous complement in the open flow through the continuous level of galleries below.

Steven Holl’s design, made with partner Chris McVoy, creates unique spaces for particular works of art, with a court dedicated to the Museum’s significant holdings of Isamu Noguchi sculptures and an entry plaza and reflecting pool designed in collaboration with Walter De Maria. The galleries, organized in sequence to support the progression of the collections, gradually step down into the Park, and are punctuated by views into the landscape. As visitors move through the new addition, they will experience a flow between light, art, architecture and landscape. “The movement of the body as it crosses through overlapping perspectives, through the landscape and the free movement threaded between the light gathering lenses of the new addition are the elemental connections between ourselves and architecture,” says Steven Holl.